AWMCo Rebuilt – Union Enters the Fray

An interesting ink blotter recalls the days of the giant Union Typewriter Company – really, a trust company that would eventually be made illegal – and its move to enter the rebuilt typewriter market.

American Factory Rebuilt blotter

This clever ad piece asks us to “blot out those old prejudices against rebuilt typewriters” by availing ourselves of the details of American Writing Machine Company’s offerings.  This is slightly ironic considering the fact that the companies involved in Union had resisted and even counter-advertised against rebuilt (and against visible) typewriters for some time before swinging over to where the cash was to be had.

The presence of an upstrike Remington machine on the blotter hints that the date of this piece is early – early that is, in relation to the time AWMCo halted manufacture of its own line of machines (Caligraph / Century) and turned to rebuilding all makes of machines in 1906-1907.

The changeover of AWMCo was just one piece of the ponderous transition of the Union affair into something more modern and competitive.  Formed in 1893, Union was a trust that held control over the patents and factories of Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict (makers of the Remington typewriter), Smith Premier, Densmore, Yost, and American Writing Machine.  The trust kept prices of its machines high and set standards for quality and service.  However, while such trusts were at least in part meant to eliminate competition (by ensuring all profits of all makers went into a common fund, thus being able to support weaker members and so maintaining apparent competition) others from the outside with new ideas and capital charged to the fore with new machines and forced Union to change its principles.

Union had to do two things; it had to replace its upstrike machines of all makes, and it had to enter the rebuilt business.  If it did neither, either could kill it or help to.  But the giant conglomerate couldn’t just write off all of its present assets overnight.  So it took a few years to set up production of a wholly new machine (the Monarch) by 1904, and then moved to halt production of the AWMCo New Century machine and convert that plant to rebuilding in 1906-7.  In 1908 the new “visible” machines of Remington, Smith Premier, and Yost appeared and at about this time Union also absorbed Pittsburg Writing Machine Co., maker of a less-than-$100 four bank frontstrike.  (Densmore was dropped in 1910 without converting.)

With these moves – namely, converting big $100 brands to front strike “visibles,” buying and integrating a lower-price standard machine, and changing a capable plant to become a rebuilder / retailer / wholesaler, Union had made great strides to meet the competitive situation.  It knew, as did all others sooner or later, that the rebuilt market would exist whether it moved to enter it or not – and by not entering, it could only be hurt by it.  Considering that AWMCo remained in business well into the 1930’s rebuilding machines (and, handling the new-old-stock parts of L. R. Roberts after Remington used its Remington-Noiseless subsidiary to buy that firm out at auction in 1927) it made the right call!

American Writing Machine Letterhead

American Writing Machine Co. letterhead, 1930. This letter was sent as the result of an inquiry into Blickensderfer keys, which AWMCo was handling as a result of the 1927 buyout of Blick’s descendant company, L. R. Roberts.  AWMCo. advised the gentleman that all key buttons were totally sold out, and suggested the purchase of a new Rem-Blick.

Miller Closes Out – Or Does It?

In December 1927, an interested party received a letter from the Miller Typewriter Sales Company of Wichita, Kansas, almost surely in answer to a request for information.  That letter was a flyer advertising the company’s offerings of rebuilt typewriters.  However, this flyer had been altered before being sent, as can be seen below.

Miller Typ Sales Co Letter Dec 1927

This now-fragile sheet advertised “Rebuilt Standard Visible Typewriters” and included the description “$10.00 to $30.00 Less.”  As we can see, a variety of models was offered.

What’s interesting is the typed additions at the top of the sheet.  These read as follows:

“Dear Sir:  We are closing out what we have left, all makes at $25.00 each.  These are real bargains.  Fine nickel plating and good enamel and all have two-color switch and backspacer, etc.  Also have one Rex Visible not shown on this sheet at only $10.00.  No Royals or L. C. Smiths left, or Olivers.  No more at these prices as soon as disposed of present supply.  Better get busy.”

Now, that message to to the prospective buyer makes it sound as if a fire sale were in progress – that is to say, a total closeout.  And that’s certainly the impression it was meant to convey.  “Better get busy” means that if you don’t act now, others will get these machines at these low prices (and twenty-five’s a pretty good price for a Monarch, Remington, Woodstock, Underwood or Corona machine in that year.)  But read it again and notice that nowhere does the company directly state that it’s going out of business, that this is the end, or that it’s all over.  It just says “no more at these prices.”

So what we have here in all probability is a sales tool – the creation of the impression of a coming shortage.  In this case, that’s shortage of supply of inexpensive rebuilt typewriters.  But nothing could have been further from the truth in that year, because the business overall was doing quite well nationwide.  More than likely Miller Typewriter Sales (which oddly has included an envelope addressed directly to most likely the owner / manager, C. W. Miller) was doing all right and was simply using a good sales tactic to motivate the buyer.  Because this was an extremely obscure company, we can’t say for sure, for now – but the tactic is clear as day on the second reading.

Miller Typ Sales Co Envelope

Harry A. Smith: Personal Care

Among seasoned typewriter collectors, the name “Harry A. Smith” has almost always been well known.  His machines are the most-discussed rebuilds because of his occasional habit of replacing the original maker’s name with his own, and even his own emblem – and these relabeled machines are prized among collectors.  Yet, he sold far more machines faithfully rebuilt and originally labeled.

Smith launched his company in 1911 after years of sales work in the office business, and quickly became a successful seller of rebuilt machines – largely by mail.  He shed control of his original firm to focus on an attempt to build brand new typewriters at the start of the 1920’s, but when that company failed he soon found himself in the employ of L. C. Smith & Bros. in the Exchanged Machines department.  It was not long after this employment that Smith took back control of his old firm, now the Smith Typewriter Sales Co., and put it in the employ of his new bosses to become an exclusive rebuilder of L. C. Smith machines alone.

No one could have remained in this business as long as Smith did without doing many things right, and now, thanks to a remarkable late 1924 brochure, we can read some of his philosophy.  What’s more, the photo contained therein may be among the last published of Smith, who died January 11, 1925; the brochure has hand written on it “Rec’d 12/26/24.”  By that date, Smith was already in the hospital (according to information provided by Alan Seaver.)  He was 50 years old.

Harry A Smith 1924

Above, Harry A. Smith is seen in his office at Smith Typewriter Sales.  On the wall behind Smith is an illustration of the L. C. Smith & Bros. factory in Syracuse, New York; outside the window of his office can be seen the Chicago River.

The following is printed below the photo and attributed to Smith:

“SUCCESS in this business, as I see it, can only come in proportion to the amount of personal care and interest that is put into it.  I personally open each letter that we receive.  Your order or inquiry has my personal attention first, before going to the other departments; any order or inquiry that has anything out of the ordinary in it must be reported back to me for my personal assurance of proper attention.  I have spent most of my business lifetime in the typewriter industry.  I thoroughly understand the work and enjoy it.

The typewriter expert is necessarily a highly developed type of keenly sensitive mechanic.  The nature of his work requires great concentration of his senses of sight, touch and sound.  He works for hours under severe tension with every faculty alert, and it requires full understanding of such a man and his work to keep things running smoothly.

Smith Typewriter Sales LCSmith 8

Above, a Smithtype Rebuilt L. C. Smith & Bros. No. 8 machine.

I know and fully appreciate the accuracy and precision required of my men and ‘ease things up’ by giving each man the work he likes and performs the best.  In many cases I have made it more pleasant for the men, and more conducive to better work, by placing them in groups of four, each doing a specialized portion of assembling.

Our large, unusually well lighted workrooms are appreciated.  The men have a real love for the perfect mechanism of the L. C. Smith, which enables them to do more and better work than on other makes.

I know good work and exact a definite but reasonable output per man.  On the other hand, I know the worth of personal encouragement.  Our practice is to give our men full praise and good pay for doing unusually good work.  My men believe they are handling the best typewriter that is built.  Their belief in, and respect for, the L. C. Smith comes from their intimate knowledge of the quality of the machine and the service it gives our customers.

Our care and interest continues after we have shipped your typewriter to you because it is our desire that every customer shall be more than satisfied in every respect.”

Smith Typ Sales 1924 Smith Sig